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Tulips and Tulipomania

Wednesday April 16, 2014

Many of us think "Holland" when we hear talk of tulips. picture of tulipThat's not where they come from originally, though. Tulips originated mainly in central Asia. Still, the Holland connection is understandable. Perhaps no other people has ever gone as head-over-heels for tulips as have the Dutch, not even Tiny Tim fans.

The time period from the late 20th century to the early 21st century has seen an Internet bubble and a housing bubble in the U.S., but such bubbles are nothing new. In 17th-century Holland, tulip bulbs were allegedly so prized that they were traded as a sort of commodity. The frenzied trading in tulips at the height of "Tulipomania" led to a bubble. The subsequent bursting of the bubble is believed by some to have wrought considerable havoc on the Dutch economy.

We're unlikely to witness a repeat of Tulipomania, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to "go crazy about" regarding tulips. Tulips are many people's favorite spring flowers.

In her encyclopedic volume, Bulb, Anna Pavord says of the tulip that it is "the queen of all bulbs, producing the sexiest, the most capricious, the most various, subtle, powerful, and intriguing flowers that any gardener will ever set eyes on." Consult my flower bulbs book review for more information on this excellent read.

Though a tulip lover, myself, I won't attempt to support Pavord's bold claim. But I do provide helpful growing tips in my full article on planting tulips.

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Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Shrubs to Prune in Spring

Thursday April 10, 2014

There are some shrubs that you can prune early (late winter or early spring), without worrying that you're going to cost yourself some flowers during blooming time. picture of beauty berry That's because they bloom on new wood. Today I'll be talking about a few examples.

Butterfly bush is that controversial shrub named not for what it looks like, but for what it attracts. Why controversial? Because in many regions, it's invasive. I discuss a cultivar in my article that is touted as being a non-invasive improvement. Some people hack butterfly bush right down to the ground.

Beautyberry is another with which one can be ruthless in pruning. This bush is grown for its berries, not its blooms (although, of course, you can't have the former without the latter).

Another deciduous shrub grown primarily for something other than its flowers is red twig dogwood. In this case, it's the bark color of the plant that is most valued. Since the bark is most colorful on the new shoots (which you can generate by pruning off the older branches), this is a bush that you'll want to practice rejuvenation-style pruning on regularly, as I explain in my article.

My final two entries for today, though, are definitely grown for their flowers. In fact, the blooms of bluebeard shrubs and rose of sharon are an important source of color for the late-summer yard.

Wait, did I actually just make a reference to late summer? Believe me, it pains me to do so. And not because ragweed pollen will be causing allergies when late summer rolls around (although, to be sure, it will); there are, after all, allergies to deal with in spring, too. No, my reason is a psychological one: namely, having just made it into the fair-weather months here in New England, I'm loath to even think about anything that far into the future. I want the present to drag.

Do you feel the same way? Then try not to think of late summer when you're pruning those bushes and performing other tasks in the spring yard (contemplate something more pleasant, such as stimulating your feline friend with catnip). But speaking of pruning chores, Marie Iannotti, About's Gardening Guide, lists some more shrubs to prune in spring.

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Photo ©2008 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Seasonal Calendar of a Nature Lover

Monday April 7, 2014

Like me, many of you would, undoubtedly, characterize yourself as "nature lovers."golden But what do those words really mean? Well, there are different kinds of nature lovers, and my intention in today's blog post is to portray one type (mine) -- a type bound to be more plentiful, I suppose, in regions that experience four distinct seasons (or more; Amy Campion makes a compelling case in her What Blooms When blog for recognizing a far larger number of seasons). This type of nature lover lives by a "seasonal calendar." It's not a calendar you hang on the wall; it's a calendar you "read" by opening your heart to nature.

Nature lovers of this sort behold the drama of the changing seasons every year as if it were being played out for the very first time -- such is our immersion in the grand performance, as the curtain closes on one act and opens on another. In fact, we identify so intimately with the drama, that we almost think of ourselves as performers in the play, rather than mere spectators. Every fall, we feel cruelly deserted as darkness waxes strong and daylight wanes. Every spring we feel "brand new." We take it all so personally.

Our seasonal calendar is thus a four-act play. We mark the year's progress less by the conventional calendar than by our own interaction with the signs of the seasons. Of course, different individuals may recognize different signs, or may ascribe greater importance to one sign than to another.

For me, spring fully arrives when I affirm the peepers' announcement of such. I commence summer with my annual trip along the coast of Maine around solstice time; I put all those daylight hours to good use, searching for, among other things, the glorious blooms of the golden chain trees (picture). But when rose of sharon blooms burst upon the scene, I know that summer's days are numbered.

The first hint of yellow, orange or red in the (healthy) trees warns me that autumn is imminent and that it will soon be time again to set up the outdoor Halloween decorations. "Warns," I say, out of trepidation for the season that succeeds it, the season-that-must-not-be-named.

But that's old news now. Spring has mercifully returned; Act IV's antagonist has no lines in Act I. Do you feel brand new again?

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Photo of golden chain tree raceme ©2006 David Beaulieu (licensed to About.com)

My Lawn Doesn't Have Weeds in It

Saturday April 5, 2014

Would you like to be able to make the claim, "My lawn doesn't have weeds in it"? picture of wild violetsWell, you can. And no, it doesn't require an obsession with lawn maintenance and hours of digging weeds or dumping herbicides on them.

Not to go all Clintonesque on you, but, you see, it really boils down to how you answer the question, What is a weed?. According to the great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, those who refer to this or that plant as a "weed" simply haven't discovered its virtues yet.

So if you boldly tell the guy next door that your lawn doesn't have any weeds in it, and the incredulous neighbor points to all the wild violets (picture) or dandelions growing amongst your grass blades with a quizzical look on his face, it's easy enough to have a comeback line ready. Just cite one of the virtues of the weed in question. If you're unable to do so (yet), tell him that you're still in the process of discovering its virtues and need to have it around to study it. Citing Emerson would give you some credibility, too.

If you truly believe what you're saying, you should be able to pull it off without a glitch. Otherwise, it would help to be able to put on a poker face while delivering your lines.

Seriously, though, it's a good idea to learn something about a weed before you begin fighting it (if it turns out that you cannot find any virtues in it, that is). For example, is it an annual or a perennial? Crabgrass is to be fought in quite a different fashion from dandelions, because the former is an annual and the latter is a perennial. Knowing this kind of thing will save you time, energy and money, believe me! Here I tell you all about some common lawn weeds, including how to fight them.

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Photo ©2012 David Beaulieu (licensed to About, Inc.)

What Makes the "Other Easter Flower" So Special?

Tuesday April 1, 2014

The enthusiasm with which I am now blogging about Pasque flower raises an interesting question (in a mind that works like my own, at least): by what criteria does the plant enthusiast rank one flower ahead of another? picture of pasque flower bloomI specify "plant enthusiast" because folks who merely "like to have some plants around" -- but who don't go head over heels about particular plants -- are perhaps not passionate enough on the subject to grapple with this question in the way that I am suggesting.

So what excites me about Pasque flower? The criterion Pasque flower meets for achieving a high rank is that it blooms early. Depending on the year and the climate in which you live, it may bloom around Easter. Thus the common name, "Easter flower," although many of you may associate Easter lilies with that holiday.

Yes, for plants as well as for people, timing can be of the essence. And there's something special about the first blooms that greet us in early spring after a long winter! A plant boasting such blooms immediately takes precedence over others that, while just as attractive (or maybe even more so), bloom later in the year. The later bloomers can easily get "lost in the crowd," but the earliest bloomers, like Pasque flower, stand out.

Some of the other criteria that may cause certain plants to rank above others include:

  • How well plants fit into your color scheme
  • What plants offer in terms of form and texture
  • Growing conditions: some types of flowers grow better than others in particular problem areas (e.g., excessively wet or dry areas)

More: 10 Best Perennial Vines for Sun

More: 10 Best Late Spring Flowering Shrubs

More: Acid-Loving Plants

More: What Is Slime Mold?

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Photo ©2008 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

What Garden Bloggers Are Talking About

Saturday March 29, 2014

picture of red columbine

I spend more time now on social media than I care to admit. There was a time when I would check my email first thing in the morning. Not anymore. Now I check Facebook first. Even when I do get around to checking my email, chances are good that the majority of my messages will be oriented toward social media (especially Pinterest).

As geeky as all that sounds, being active in social media does have its concrete benefits for me. For example, it has put me in touch with some interesting garden bloggers with whom I probably would not have established contact otherwise. These folks give me ideas and help me keep my finger on the pulse of what the landscaping and gardening communities are discussing.

Speaking of which, today I'm featuring some of the thought-provoking, cutting-edge, or just plain funny material I've come across recently in reading the work of other garden bloggers.

I begin with two pieces from Scott Harris, whom some of you may know as the moderator for About.com's Gardening forum. Scotty has been entertaining friends recently on his Facebook timeline with plant identification quizzes and a general celebration of spring. His friends have done their part, as well, to create a festive mood, engaging in lively banter with their host. Scotty is also one of the owners of the Our Vintage Garden website, where his wonderful sense of humor has manifested itself in some garden stories that will make you chuckle, such as this one that is reminiscent of a Three Stooges short.

David McClure, Landscape Designer and Marketing Specialist with Miller Landscape, does the honors for the "cutting edge" segment. In his blog post, "Garden Media Group Releases Best New Garden Plants & Products for Spring 2014," David alerts us to Garden Media's list of hot items for spring, 2014. Included on the list is an Oriental lily named 'Distant Drum' that would be good company in the garden for my Stargazer lily.

A couple of recent blog posts right here at About.com have also caught my attention. Jamie McIntosh shares some thoughts on dogs and gardens. She recently brought home a new dog and relates how much joy the mutt has given her family. But a canine presence in a garden isn't all puppy dogs, sunshine and lollypops, so our Flowers Expert furnishes some realistic solutions to the problems that are sure to arise.

Last but not least, Marie Iannotti has some suggestions for plugging that gap between the earliest bloomers and the summer bloomers in "Flowers to Bridge Spring into Summer." Essentially, this is a post about sequence of bloom, a subject near and dear to my heart. And on the subject of the heart, bleeding heart is one of the flowers mentioned by our Gardening Expert, along with one of my very favorite perennials, columbine (see picture above).

In the highly unlikely event that you've ever wondered how I spend my time during the day, now you know. There's so much great information to read out there in social media and the blogosphere. As the weather starts to warm up here in New England, I'll be torn between keeping up with such reading and going outside to enjoy my garden. I have a pretty good idea as to which activity will win out, though.

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Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Where's the Lamb?

Sunday March 23, 2014

picture of star magnolia blossom

"Where's the beef?" is an expression that has become common currency, invoked to challenge the substance behind a claim one regards as dubious. Yet many young people (oh, how old I feel saying that!) probably have no idea as to its origin. The saying became famous in the '80s from its use in a Wendy's TV ad. Its place in the Hall of Fame of expressions was cemented when it was used by candidate, Walter Mondale against one of his political adversaries in the 1984 presidential primaries.

I won't get into the merits of Wendy's charge (I've never been a big fast-food guy), but here's a question that I think many of you in the North will agree is meritorious at the present time: Where's the lamb? That is, when March "comes in like a lion" (as it did this year), it's supposed to go "out like a lamb." But I think March missed the memo this year. I'm still bundling up to go outside here in New England. This is one ferocious lion, and it has long overstayed its welcome.

Our plants, of course, are unable to slip into some long johns, button up an insulated vest, and cap off the arctic ensemble with a pair of goofy-looking earmuffs. They're not budging from their wintry state of rest until Leo takes a hike. As a plant geek, this troubles me greatly. As of right now, the only plant I have in bloom is witch hazel. My Lenten rose is looking attractive, as well. But that's about all there is to report. In past years, if the winter had been mild, I would already be enjoying flowers on the following at this time of year:

A neighbor of ours does have some crocus in bloom now, but only because they're cheating with a warmer microclimate.

To make matters worse, rabbits have decimated my flowering quince bushes: I'll miss the fruity colors of their precocious flowers this year in my landscaping. Hey Leo, if you're going to be roaring in my yard this late into March, can't you at least help out by keeping the rabbits at bay? Your lack of consideration is appalling. No catnip for you this year!

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Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Are You Getting Into the Spirit of the Season?

Friday March 21, 2014

picture of yellow daffodil trumpet

Yesterday we observed the Spring Equinox. I'm pretty excited about that; I think it's worth another word or two, don't you? And there's no better source than William Wordsworth when we wish to wax poetic about spring. Among other works, he is, of course, associated with that wonderful little poem on daffodils, cheerful heralds of this splendid season.

In "Out-of-Doors" Wordsworth beamed:

It is the first mild day of March,
Each minute sweeter than before;
The redbreast sings from the tall larch
That stands beside the door.

There is a blessing in the air
Which seems a sense of joy to yield
To the bare trees, and mountains bare,
And grass in the green field.

Love, now a universal birth,
From heart to heart is stealing,
From earth to man, from man to earth;
It is the hour of feeling.

One moment now may give us more
Than years of toiling reason:
Our minds shall drink at every pore
The spirit of the season.

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More: Halls' Honeysuckle

Photo ©2013 David Beaulieu (licensed to About, Inc.)

Pucker Up!

Sunday March 16, 2014

picture of yellow tulip

Tomorrow is Saint Patrick's Day, that celebration of shamrocks and beer, and drunks will be running around bellowing, "Kiss me, I'm Irish!" The sober will be content to wear tee-shirts, hats, etc. with writing that issues the same invitation (or should I say "threat"?). It's all in good fun, and I suppose people could be doing worse things.

But I want to talk today about a different kind of puckering up. When a flower isn't fully opened, we sometimes say that it's "all puckered up." Well, the fact is, I think some flowers actually look better that way. It's just a personal preference, but feel free to use the Comments section to agree or to disagree with me on this point.

I recently posted about Lenten rose, and this perennial is a great place to start in making my point. Technically, the unopened "bud" I find so attractive on this hellebore isn't even a flower bud at all. The real flowers come later, but they are not what draw people to this plant. It's the bud-like collection of unfurled sepals that excite me about Lenten rose.

I feel the same way about some other flowers. Here are three more that I find more appealing when they're puckered up:

  1. snowdrops
  2. roses
  3. tulips

Indeed, in the case of snowdrops, the very name of the plant would seem to be a reference to the look of its unopened flowers (the "drops").

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Photo ©2013 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

Spring Cleaning in the Yard

Monday March 10, 2014

picture of jane magnolia blossom

'Tis the season when we hear lots of talk about "spring cleaning." Folks are freshening up homes that have been shuttered up all winter. And they're glad to do it, too: because even though such spring cleaning is a lot of work, it marks a joyous end to cabin fever!

Your yard, too can profit from a version of spring cleaning. One yard chore this time of year truly does involve something of a cleansing: the removal of all the refuse that has accumulated in the yard during the long winter. But other types of tasks you should be performing fall more loosely into the "spring cleaning" category, as they involve getting your yard ready for the growing season; e.g.:

  • Preparing flower beds
  • Early planting
  • Pest and weed prevention
  • Tending to plants in need of some TLC after the long winter

So what are you waiting for? Read my article and start allotting some time later in the month for some spring cleaning in the yard. There's nothing better to lift the spirits this time of year than thinking ahead to a warm day in late March, when the weather finally allows you to putter around outside and you'll have eye candy like Jane magnolia blossoms (picture) to keep you entertained.

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Photo ©2012 David Beaulieu (licensed to About, Inc.)

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